Clients. The ingredient our freelancing career cannot exist without. We provide them with great service and, in turn, they pay for them.
It’s a simple straightforward relationship, but it doesn’t always work this easily.
Bad freelancing clients happen from time to time and we should know how to avoid them. With so many amazing people waiting for us to help their with our skills, why waste time with those very few who’d make our lives miserable?
Here are the warning signs you are dealing with a bad freelance client
They question your rates / complain about not having a budget
For years I’d take up work with such people since little money was still money at the end of the day. And I was in debt and had to make my freelancing work, otherwise I’d be in trouble.
As soon as I started getting more grounded, it was easier to just avoid such troublemakers.
I don’t have the biggest rates in the world and, clearly, after 16 years of web design, I don’t have the smallest ones either.
If a client cannot afford my services (or is just interested in talking my rates down until I feel like working for free), then it’s a good idea to just avoid each other. For me it’s a sign of disrespect to haggle with me, I don’t do this at the market (since I always respect anyone’s right to set their prices) and it drives me bonkers when someone confuses me with a potato seller.
Weird enough, most of these fee conscious clients also tend to be the micro-manage type, who will be difficult once the project starts.
They ask for free samples and work
This really gets me going and I was delighted years ago when I noticed that most freelancing job websites don’t allow this to happen. Since I started my web design business on Elance, not giving them free samples or work, was important for my business growth.
I have a portfolio. There are clients who would be willing to provide some fast feedback, if you asked them for it.
I don’t do work for free and any client who asks for it, to get ‘an idea’ about my skills, is advised to either try working together or find another idiot who is willing to work free of charge.
They take days to respond
So you are close to having a deal with a prospective client and yet all this back and forth takes ages. They reply to your emails 2-3 days later (or more) and it seems like an eternity passes until you get a response.
In this case you either expect a projects to be veeeeery slow paced or find someone else to work with. Chances are your payments will also be late and asking for feedback will take ages as well.
They are too clingy
The opposite – they are fast with their responses (which is actually a great thing), but demand you don’t move from your computer 24/7, so that they can contact you continuously.
While keeping in close contact is the secret sauce to any great freelancer – client collaboration, when you are expected to never leave your desk it’s something else.
I remember 10 years ago I started working with who seemed like a good client at first. We agreed on a great rate (he needed quick help and I agreed to work extra to get his website up and running). We worked for 2 hours straight, which was great, so that we covered a lot of ground already.
Then we said goodbye for the day (we finished the agreed tasks) and I went out shopping.
Two hours later my inbox was filled with angry messages from the client who expected me to stay put and exchange ideas, even if our agreed time has passed and I wouldn’t be compensated for that time.
As you can expect it, I cancelled the job and directed the client to other prospective freelancers.
To the day he doesn’t get it that no one in their minds would be at his service 24/7 and be paid for 2 hours/day.
They try to make you work extra for free
Scope creep is a HUGE issue for us, freelancers.
Don’t get me wrong, I always try deliver a little extra. Most of my clients got free hosting for their websites for years, since I had a big reseller plan for my network and could easily give them some space there.
Free graphic design services (a business card, a small banner etc.) were also provided for free. Maybe a link from one of my niche websites to help them rank faster.
But it’s one thing for me to come and think about something I could give you, my freelance client, as a bonus for being such a great person, and another thing for you to expect me to do stuff for you we didn’t agree before and you have no intention of compensating me for.
They badmouth other freelancers
I can get it when you had a bad experience with our industry, not all freelancers are serious and some do deliver bad jobs. But when a client is more interested in how lousy previous professionals were, you start questioning if they are not the difficult type themselves and you’d be the next one they badmouth.
This was also a great way for me to spot difficult clients on Elance years ago.
If a client gave a bad rating, it was possible they did encounter a bad freelancer, but, when a client was routinely dissatisfied with my peers’ work, it was a red sign for me.
Even if there were small chances of that person to just have had bad experiences, I’d rather avoid working together, since a bad rating on my profile would have ended my career there.
They promise a lot of work, provided you give them a discount
Again my potatoes comparison. If I have a ton of them, I might be willing to give discounts, so that they don’t go bad. And it’s potatoes after all.
When it comes to my rates, working on a project or 10 takes me proportionate time (ten projects take me 10 more hours than one). There’s no way I can discount my prices (and still be satisfied with it), if I can’t cut out the work hours it takes me to finish the project.
Not to mention that, again, I find it disrespectful if you haggle with me like this.
What other signs of bad freelance clients do you know?